No, it was not a true haunted basement. It was an ordinary, seldom used place where my best friend Jim had concocted a plan to create a "haunted house".
Jim's basement was more like a root cellar than anything.
It had only one separate room where canned food and preserves were stored. The rest was delegated to the washer and dryer, an old washing sink, and a couple of small windows. As basements go, it was creepy enough since the walls were dirt. The floor was concrete, but it was still very primitive. The scariest thing about the place was probably the old stairs leading down.
This story all began when Jim called me up one day with an ingenious plan for turning his basement into a haunted crypt so authentic, and so terrifying, that it could literally scare his younger siblings to death. (Scaring his siblings to death was a good thing, for then they'd be out of the picture.) Jim was the oldest of six children, an equal pairing of three girls and three boys. They came in a variety of sizes of brat, jumbo brat, super brat, nuisance, and annoyance. Jim, of course, was none of these; he was my best friend. I always felt that his genius rivaled my own when it came to pulling off bone-headed, and otherwise outrageous stunts.
Phase one began with the idea.
Minimal lighting was needed. We both knew that keeping the project a secret was impossible, and as it turned out, word soon leaked as to our plan. Jim's sisters were easy enough to handle because they soon got bored with anything that us boys were up to. However, once all the work was done, they'd be more than curious, and anxious to take the tour, and while criticizing every detail. Next came John; he was a year younger than Jim. He wanted to be in on it, but eventually lost interest when he learned that actual involvement and work was required. Finally, we were left with Jim's youngest brother Joe.
Joe deserves his own paragraph. He came in "nuisance" size. Joe dedicated his life to listening in, spying, or desperately trying to corrupt, or pervert our plans. He was a master at tattling to Jim's parents, and generally being as welcome as a housefly that lands on your mashed potatoes. Joe was the kid who'd run in, kick over your army men and then run away at an incredible speed. His deeds were usually followed by maniacal laughter. Joe was the one who tried to interfere with anything, and wanted to be the constant center of attention.
As the construction began, Jim and I realized that we knew very little about how to create a haunted basement. First we needed to black out the basement windows with cardboard. (We couldn't have younger siblings seeing where they were walking after all.) We did have some great gimmicks though; I learned quickly, that cutting pieces of fishing line into three foot lengths, then hanging them in a doorway made a great spider web effect. Anybody who walked through them in the extremely dim light shuddered and shivered while automatically sweeping their arms and body free of potential eight-legged visitors. Jim pounded some nails into the wall on each side of the door to hang a black crepe paper streamer. We weren't sure of the effect, but it sounded good at the time.
It was then that we heard the evil: Joe, in his usual fashion, was spying from the cracked basement door upstairs. He'd been fairly warned-with the threat of physical violence-to leave us alone. He began yelling "Dad, Jim's pounding nails in the wall again!"
Joe needed to be dealt with.
Without a true plan for haunting a basement, and without much to work with, our plan immediately took a left turn and changed into something a little more devious: it was time to take Joe out of the game once and for all. This was Jim's master plan. He was an incredible innovator, and I had to admit that his plan was pure genius, and should have been written up in trade journals. It involved four household items:
- fishing line
- heavy fishing sinker
- a mouse trap
- a victim.
Here's how it worked:
- first Jim tied the fishing line around the doorknob on the inside of the basement door.
- He then ran the other end through the bottom of the light socket mounted in the ceiling over the door. (There was a small square opening on the bottom of the light fixture where he fed the string through).
- Finally, the other end of the fishing line was attached around the spring of a cocked and loaded mouse trap while another longer line with a heavy fishing sinker served as a counter-balance. This created a pendulum effect. Once the basement door was opened from the outside, the mouse trap came flying the face of the unsuspecting victim.
Q: Could this have worked on anybody else?
A: Probably not; the simple opening of the door from the outside wouldn't create enough momentum to deliver a loaded mousetrap to one's unsuspecting face.
The door would need to be deliberately left slightly ajar so that it could be opened quickly (Joe style) thus enabling the weapon. We watched and waited on the basement stairs. Joe wasn't smart enough to sneak up on us as the shadows of his feet were visible under the door. After a few seconds, he swung open the door and started to charge down the stairs. He'd begun to yell "Ha-ha, I know what your doi--", when suddenly, and in mid-sentence, his face and the mouse trap were introduced to each other. The trap flew up and snapped shut on his ear! It was a perfectly executed plan.
We heard no maniacal laughter, only maniacal screaming in pain and horror as Joe ran to his parents. "Serves you right!" we heard Jim's Dad saying from the kitchen table where he sat sipping his beer and smoking a cigarette. Nothing happened to Jim or I, and I think we both secretly thought that his Dad admired the ingenuity of it all.
Basically, we built a creepy spider-webbed doorway, but the rest of the haunted basement never saw fruition. If revenge is truly sweet, then this one was a thousand calorie dish. Later we graduated to games of daring-do like playing catch with loaded mousetraps. As we all grew to adulthood, Jim and I remained best friends. I don't see him anymore, but we were inseparable from sixth grade to about our mid-thirties. For the record, Joe has maintained that he has no memory of that incident at all.
Sometimes denial is best. You can't beat a good mouse trap either.